Monday, March 24, 2008

AL East Preview

Projected Order of Finish
New York
Tampa Bay

Best Positional Player: Alex Rodriguez, New York
Best Pitcher: Josh Beckett, Boston
Best Rookie: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay

Divisional All-Star Team
C- Jorge Posada, New York
1B- Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay
2B- Robinson Cano, New York
SS- Derek Jeter, New York
3B- Alex Rodriguez, New York
LF- Manny Ramirez, Boston
CF- B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay
RF- Alexis Rios, Toronto
DH- David Ortiz, Boston
SP- Josh Beckett, Boston
SP- Chien-Ming Wang, New York
SP- Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay
SP- Roy Halladay, Toronto
SP- Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston
RP- Joba Chamberlain, New York
RP- Hideki Okajima, Boston
CP- Jonathan Papelbon, Boston
CP- Mariano Rivera, New York

1. Boston Red Sox

C- Jason Varitek
1B- Kevin Youkilis
2B- Dustin Pedroia
SS- Julio Lugo
3B- Mike Lowell
LF- Manny Ramirez
CF- Jacoby Ellsbury
RF- J.D. Drew
DH- David Ortiz
Bench- C- Kevin Cash; INF- Sean Casey, Alex Cora; OF- Coco Crisp

SP- Josh Beckett
SP- Daisuke Matsuzaka
SP- Tim Wakefield
SP- Jon Lester
SP- Clay Buchholz
CP- Jonathan Papelbon
RP- Hideki Okajima
RP- Mike Timlin
RP- Manny Delcarmen
RP- Kyle Snyder
RP- Julian Tavarez
RP- Javier Lopez

Have the Red Sox surpassed the Yankees yet in terms of ESPN overkill/annoying fans? It's certainly a fair question to ask. After all, the multiple late '90s-early '00s playoff losses, especially the Aaron Boone 2003 ALCS Game 7, brought back the curse theory. Then, when the Sox finally broke through in 2004 and 2007, everybody and their mother became a fan. They were no longer the underdog, spending just as much as the Yanks and competing for the outrageously priced foreign free agents. If you only watched ESPN for your baseball coverage, you would think it's a two-team league. Frankly, I can't stand the overhyped April matchups between the Yanks and the Sox. Watch as John Kruk and Peter Gammons and Steve Phillips foam at the mouth just waiting for the first pitch. It's quite a sight.

In reality, the Red Sox have surpassed the Yankees on the field. Their player development and wise spending in free agency has given them the leg up in the AL East. In fact, 2007 was the first time a team besides the Yankees had won the East since 1997 (Baltimore). I don't see this year being any different. Even though Schilling is out for the majority of the year, Boston has plenty of young arms to counter with. Buchholz, fresh off a September no-hitter, and Lester are more than capable pitchers in the back end of the rotation. Delcarmen is emerging as the new right-handed setup man behind Papelbon.

On offense, Ramirez and Varitek may be declining due to age. But, even their decline phases are more than enough compared to the average player. Ortiz continues to surge in his 30s, leaving behind his ugly and oft-forgotten time in Minnesota. Since he didn't hit 50 homeruns like in 2006, many people didn't notice Ortiz having his best year as a pro in 2007. He's definitely making a case for being the best DH of all-time. The other contenders? Edgar Martinez and Paul Molitor.

A couple other things to note: Pedroia was awful until about mid-May last year. Once he got adjusted to big-league ball, he was one of the best 2b in the league. Let's see what he can do with a full season under his belt. Same goes with Ellsbury. He was lights-out in September and October. Now a full-time starter, he should rank with Granderson, Suzuki, and Sizemore as the best CFs in the American League.

2. New York Yankees

C- Jorge Posada
1B- Jason Giambi
2B- Robinson Cano
SS- Derek Jeter
3B- Alex Rodriguez
LF- Johnny Damon
CF- Melky Cabrera
RF- Bobby Abreu
DH- Hideki Matsui
Bench- C- Jose Molina; INF- Wilson Betemit, Morgan Ensberg; OF- Shelley Duncan

SP- Chien-Ming Wang
SP- Andy Pettitte
SP- Philip Hughes
SP- Mike Mussina
SP- Ian Kennedy
CP- Mariano Rivera
RP- Joba Chamberlain
RP- Kyle Farnsworth
RP- LaTroy Hawkins
RP- Edwar Ramirez
RP- Brian Bruney
RP- Sean Henn

I feel like the 2008 Yankees are teetering on the edge of a collapse. They have a few great players in their primes (A-Rod, Wang, Chamberlain, and Cano). They have a few potentially great young players who may or may not fulfill that hope this season (Hughes, Kennedy, Cabrera). But, the majority of their roster is filled with aging veterans who could suffer an injury or rapidly decline at any moment. Their outfield consists of Cabrera and three guys who should be DHing. Their first baseman also needs to DH. The problem is that three of those four will have to play the field each game. Jeter may not be as old as those four, but his defense has never been his strong point, no matter how many Gold Gloves he's won. By the way, that's the most meaningless award in baseball. It's usually given out year after year to the same player, mostly to players who are good on offense as well. You're really telling me Greg Maddux was the best defensive pitcher for 16 years? Think about it. Players have bad years on defense, too. But, the average voter can't tell, so they just vote the same as the year before.

ANYWAY, the Yankees defense figures to be one of the worst in baseball this year. This is especially troubling because of the makeup of the pitching staff. Wang is one of the most extreme ground-ball pitchers in baseball, rarely striking batters out. With an aging Jeter and Giambi behind him on the infield, a few more of those grounders will get to the outfield each year. Also, as Pettitte and Mussina have gotten older, their K rates have gone down, as they, too, rely on defense more. Hughes and Kennedy may be the lucky ones, with more powerful strikeout pitches, but I still many balls dropping in the outfield. Cabrera better be conditioned this year, running from left to right helping out Damon and Abreu.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

C- Dioner Navarro
1B- Carlos Pena
2B- Akinori Iwamura
SS- Jason Bartlett
3B- Evan Longoria
LF- Carl Crawford
CF- B.J. Upton
RF- Jonny Gomes
DH- Cliff Floyd
Bench- C- Shawn Riggans; INF- Willy Aybar, Ben Zobrist; OF- Justin Ruggiano, Joel Guzman

SP- Scott Kazmir
SP- James Shields
SP- Matt Garza
SP- Andy Sonnanstine
SP- Edwin Jackson
CP- Troy Percival
RP- Dan Wheeler
RP- Al Reyes
RP- Gary Glover
RP- Trever Miller
RP- Scott Dohmann
RP- Juan Salas

My pick for the most improved team in baseball. While the Yankees will be a poor defensive team largely because of old, balky knees and legs, the Rays were the worst team on D last year for a different reason. They had a lot of inexperience and people playing out of position. Upton couldn't handle second base, faring much better in CF. Former SS Brendan Harris never had the range to play short, so Bartlett was brought in from Minnesota. Iwamura moves over to second, where his weak arm will play better. All in all, Baseball Prospectus projects the new-look Rays to improve significantly on defense. That change will greatly help their young pitchers.

In fact, this will be the best pitching staff in the Rays' young history. For the first time, they have a legit 1-2-3 trio. And all 3 are in their 20s. Kazmir, Shields, and Garza could all win 15 games if their offense comes through as expected. They still don't have the needed depth at the 4 and 5 slots, but Sonnanstine should be respectable at least. However, they have some of the best pitching prospects in baseball waiting in the minors. Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jacob McGee, and #1 pick David Price could all make their debuts this season.

On offense, 3B Evan Longoria projects to be the AL Rookie of the Year. Look for him to be somewhere between Ryan Braun and Ryan Zimmerman, which is a heck of a player. The big question mark is their outfield depth. Baldelli recently was diagnosed with a potentially career-ending injury. He has a rare disease where his muscles don't work properly. It makes him recover much more slowly from workouts and leaves him extremely fatigued very quickly. This leaves Tampa with no major league backups. They could use INF backups Guzman or Aybar as emergency backups in LF or RF, but they may not work defensively. Here's where the recent Barry Bonds rumors were so interesting. Why would either side not agree to a deal? Sign Bonds to an incentive-laden deal to play in a LF/DH platoon. He can drastically improve ticket sales in the notoriously empty Tropicana Field. He can still mash the ball and will help provide a second power source behind Pena. For Bonds, it gives him a chance to play on a team that could potentially win 85 games this year, much more than San Fran has won the past two years. He gets a chance to play in a warmer/more forgiving climate than San Fran. He can improve his 'me-only' image by playing well against the Sox/Yanks. This almost makes too much sense. But, I don't think Tampa has the guts to do it.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

C- Gregg Zaun
1B- Lyle Overbay
2B- Aaron Hill
SS- David Eckstein
3B- Scott Rolen
LF- Matt Stairs
CF- Vernon Wells
RF- Alexis Rios
DH- Frank Thomas
Bench- C- Rod Barajas; INF- Marco Scutaro, John McDonald; OF- Shannon Stewart

SP- Roy Halladay
SP- A.J. Burnett
SP- Dustin McGowan
SP- Jesse Litsch
SP- Shaun Marcum
CP- B.J. Ryan
RP- Jeremy Accardo
RP- Scott Downs
RP- Jason Frasor
RP- Brian Tallet
RP- Brandon League
RP- Brian Wolfe

Toronto is vaguely similar to the Yankees, only about 10x worse. They are stocked with old, injury-prone players, except they don't have the young superstars that New York does. And, they don't have the minor league depth or money New York has to patch up any holes that might crop up. Their lineup is built around 40-year-olds Matt Stairs and Frank Thomas. Rolen might as well be 40, with the way his body has broken down. In fact, he is already hurt and will likely begin the year on the DL. Overbay and Wells each had one of the worst years of their careers in 2007, and with both over 30, it's hard to predict them rebounding too greatly. Frankly, besides Hill and Rios, this is a depressing team with little promise. Of course, if everything breaks right and everyone stays healthy, they have a great shot at 90 wins. But, that is a very slim possibility.

Their pitching is much better, if only because Roy Halladay is a workhorse in the rotation. Burnett is in a contract year, so we may see a good, injury-free year out of him. McGowan is proving to be a potential #2 starter, after a couple years missed to injury. Litsch and Marcum are two young arms who came out of nowhere last year to patch up the backend of the rotation. Ryan also returns as closer after missing 2007. In his absence, Accardo showed his talents and will be a great option in the 8th. I like Toronto's staff, but I fear they may be overtaxed if the offense suffers any injuries.

5. Baltimore Orioles

C- Ramon Hernandez
1B- Kevin Millar
2B- Brian Roberts
SS- Luis Hernandez
3B- Melvin Mora
LF- Luke Scott
CF- Adam Jones
RF- Nick Markakis
DH- Aubrey Huff
Bench- C- Guillermo Quiroz; INF- Freddie Bynum, Scott Moore; OF- Jay Payton, Jay Gibbons

SP- Jeremy Guthrie
SP- Adam Loewen
SP- Daniel Cabrera
SP- Troy Patton
SP- Matt Albers
CP- George Sherrill
RP- Danys Baez
RP- Jamie Walker
RP- Chad Bradford
RP- Dennis Sarfate
RP- Brian Burres
RP- James Hoey

Remember when I said the Giants were the worst team this year? Baltimore will give them a run for their money. Whereas San Fran has to compete against four playoff-quality teams in their division, Baltimore must deal with Boston, New York, and an improving Tampa team. The Orioles have completely given in to a rebuilding process after years spent on overpriced free agents and a barren farm system. They traded #1 pitcher Erik Bedard for CF Adam Jones and new closer George Sherrill. Jones could be the Orioles' best player already in 2008. Combined with third-year RF Nick Markakis, Baltimore has the makings of a 1-2 combo to build around. Second baseman Roberts, the Orioles' best veteran, should be traded by July 31. Other than the two young OFs, Baltimore has little less but old, washed-up backup outfielder types. Millar, Payton, Huff, Mora, and Gibbons have all seen their best days, but all will see significant time on this team.

Baltimore should take this year to evaluate their young pitchers. They have an intriguing collection that probably doesn't include future ace. But, they need to sort out which ones can become #2s and #3s and try to trade the other ones for offensive depth. Between the likes of Garrett Olson, Troy Patton, Matt Albers, Brian Burres, and Adam Loewen, Baltimore should find some help. Their nominal number on is currently Jeremy Guthrie, who is already 29 and just had his first full big-league season. That should explain everything about their 2008 chances.


Joe said...

Baseball is soo boring. Don't tell me highlights are now going to start taking up Sportscenter because there's like 5,000 games in their regular season.

Would anyone complain about instituting a salary cap and cutting the regular season in half?

WXOU Sports said...

Outstanding read, I'm worried our Bullpen may keep us from winning the Division we will blow way to many games as of now.